Published: Verve Magazine, Cover Story, November 2009
Photograph by: Prasad Naik
She responds to questions with wide-eyed innocence. She will giggle and toss her head, even shriek with laughter. But to get her to reveal her innermost thoughts is a real job, discovers Sitanshi Talati-Parikh as she engages Deepika Padukone, voted the ‘Hottest Girl on Earth’ by a men’s monthly, in a freewheeling chat
There has to be a sense of mystery,” she intones, weaving her charm around us, zapping us with those smouldering doe eyes. She is the antithesis of the ‘socially networked generation’ that keeps fans enthralled with their hour-by-hour updates. A child-woman combination: the dimples in a captivating impish face reach out to you as if wanting to say something, but with firm, resolute determination, Deepika Padukone keeps interest at bay.
I look squarely at the long-limbed, quietly self-assured girl and wonder why she constantly holds back – doesn’t let herself be understood. “Having a guard or barrier up, not telling all, is a good thing.” She flashes that 100-watt smile. I don’t melt. I’m angling for a peek. “But that peek will never end. Today you’ll peek and tomorrow someone else will say I want to peek a little more – and then there’s no mystery left!” She continues animatedly, “There’s only that much we want to share with people. We are also human beings leading normal lives. You have to keep some things – nice and not-so-nice – to yourself. Even normal people don’t share everything with their friends and family. It’s important to have people wanting to know more.” That must take some effort – being consciously ‘normal’, constantly enigmatic. “It’s not an intentional thing. It’s automatically created. I’m not someone who makes the effort to create a particular aura around myself. I mean, how do you create something like that? It’s important to just be you and be real.”
She is Meera Pandit from Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal (2009): the strong, silent type, simmering with emotion within. “Like Meera, I absorb and understand a lot without having to say anything. Even the way I react to certain situations. In the film, Meera is silent, as she wonders why Jai has waited until her wedding day to tell her how he feels. Only people who have understood the character have understood the silence in that scene – and that’s how I am. A lot of things are better left unsaid.”
Deepika was a great co-star. She suited the role of Meera in Love Aaj Kal really well and displayed a lot of depth. She is a very quiet and professional person, and seems down to earth and very attached to home.
– Saif Ali Khan, actor
While the twirly ‘RK’ tattoo on the nape of her shapely neck stares at me defiantly, expressively and even outrageously, the girl with the tattoo remains stubbornly silent about discussing relationships – past or present. Of course the letters could stand for anything – rock king, reverse karma, renegade kitten. While Wake Up Sid star and heart-throb Ranbir Kapoor and her make a very attractive couple, the rumour mills have been suggesting turbulence. “I’ve reached a stage in my life, in the last couple of weeks, where I have become a little superstitious and I don’t want to talk about it. I am guarded now. I want to keep it to myself. I think enough has been said, stories going back and forth, people saying what they want…. As long as we know what’s happening in our lives, that’s all that matters.” Does she aim for perfection? After all, Kapoor has been recently quoted in a daily, saying, ‘I don’t want a perfect life.’ “Ranbir and I come from different families – I guess what he thinks is perfect or imperfect will be different from what I think. For me, a perfect life is when obviously everything goes my way. If I am happy doing everything I am doing, happy in the relationship I’m in, with the way my career is going, my family life, if my films are successful, if I am being appreciated for my work, if I’m eating good food…that’ll make me happy.”
Surprisingly, underneath that controlled veneer, she confesses to being a die-hard romantic. “I am a complete sucker for love and romance. I love doing those perfectly romantic things. Being in love is a beautiful feeling. I’ve written lots of love notes….” In a (desperate) bid to get an unrestrained confession, I suggest, ‘Have you ever gift-wrapped yourself?’ I am rewarded by a widening of the kaleidoscope eyes and a look of shock. “Gift-wrap myself?! NO!” A moment to reconsider – “But that’s a good idea!” She chuckles – possibly planning a 5-feet-9-inch surprise in her head. “In the kind of life we lead, the best gift that you can give is spending quality time with each other. No amount of material gifts makes any difference.” How often does that happen? “You’ve to make time for it. People think that if you are in a relationship you’re distracted, but I’m very good at balancing it out. It doesn’t mean that I am not focussed or not as driven as someone who’s single. It makes it easier, because it feels more complete. Romance can’t be defined. There’s too much theory on love and romance and relationships – you can’t go by what the textbook says. Sometimes you just need to let it be – the process and experience is different for different people. When you are in love and in a relationship, everything just falls into place.”
We certainly did not expect Deepika’s dream to be a top model to be realised so soon – it’s entirely due to her determination and clarity of thought. We are extremely proud and while we want her career to continue, it is more important that she make an effort to be a better human being and remain grounded at all times. It may look charming from the outside, but it is a very tough life.
– Prakash Padukone, father
Adulation then. That must be a tough one. “It’s something I already knew would happen to me when I got into this profession. If you do well, that is. If you are honest to your work and performance, everything else will follow – fame, success, money. My family keeps me grounded. Fame is not new to me – I’ve seen the way my father has handled fame and success. Today it’s there, tomorrow it may not be there.” Will that be okay? “It would be if I’m not affected by it now.” But it’s a part of your life, you’re used to having it around. What happens when it’s not there? She hesitates. “I have no clue. It may be scary.”
Six films in the kitty – with romantic thriller Karthik Calling Karthik opposite Farhan Akhtar and comedy Housefull due to release next year – and she’s already worked with some of the top directors and actors, across genres. Not to mention handling a box office debacle, Chandni Chowk to China (2009), with equanimity. “You move on. I handle my successes just the way I handle my failures. Ups and downs are a part of my profession – there’s no point feeling bad about it. I’ve worked hard and as an actor I know where the film went wrong and I’ll be careful next time.”
Deepika is the epitome of an Indian beauty – regal, graceful, dignified and with a maturity well beyond her age. She has always been a consummate professional, the discipline deeply ingrained – probably from her modelling and sports background. She will go a long way.
– Farah Khan, director
It may be The Secret or just plain wilful resolution, but Padukone hasn’t found herself floundering through decisions like a radical career shift, moving from Bengaluru to Mumbai (which was a huge change for the Padukone family) and disassociating herself with beauty pageants that have been the ticket to stardom for many a model. “My mission for myself was that I would become a famous model – without taking part in a beauty pageant. It’s a great platform for certain people, but it’s not for me.” Hesitant to break away from her firmly adopted diplomacy, she explains, “I can’t compete with other people and be questioned about what I want to do. And being given points because I’ve answered a certain way – that’s just bizarre. I don’t get it.”
With ex-badminton champion Prakash Padukone as her father, a younger sister entering pro golf and the fact that Padukone herself used to play national-level badminton, it was just her single-minded knowledge of who she wanted to be – a top model – that brought her to where she is now. “I didn’t enjoy sports enough to make it a profession for the rest of my life. You just know that something is coming your way or something is meant to be and it all fell into place.” It’s like a fabulous dream, I suggest. She interjects sharply, “But I’ve also worked hard for it! Which is why this is happening to me. I’ve done the right thing at the right time. I also believe that if you really want something, it happens.” At 23, Padukone is the owner of a Mumbai home and a BMW to take her places. But she is far from resting on her laurels. “I haven’t done everything! I have a lot left to do. More films (an Indian period film, like Umrao Jaan)…and so much more in life too. At 60 I’ll hopefully be married, with a happy family…cruising somewhere. When I look back I want people to remember me as a good human being – not an actress or a famous person. If you are not a good human being, nothing else matters, how rich you are, how beautiful you are… whatever you’ve achieved doesn’t make any difference to anyone.”
I can see that the intent to be a good person is deeply ingrained. And it is this intrinsic goodness which may have been taken advantage of. Someone somewhere has touched a raw nerve and made her a hard-backed turtle – careful, diplomatic and withdrawn. I sense a deep-rooted distrust of the media. “Sometimes it (media) bothers me a little bit. It’s annoying when stories are fabricated. Check with me, clarify with me – that’s fine. When things just come out of nowhere – I’m not saying everything is false – but not everything is true. It is annoying when things are not true.” There appears to be something specific on her mind. Just as I feel that she may say something more, the moment has passed and she has reverted to her unflappable self: “If you look at everything positively, it shouldn’t matter. I can’t pick up a tabloid and read it. It might affect me for a bit but then I get into yoga and other things and I get my mind off it or get into work. There’s no point being upset over something. I like being surrounded by positive people and positivity. I get over things fast. I have no idea how I manage – it’s scary sometimes! My father in particular has been a very positive influence – ‘don’t let things affect you, if something is bothering you, talk about it, let it out.’” Obviously there was a footnote which said, talk, but be careful whom you talk to.
Greatest fear “To lose loved ones.”
Filmi buddies “Beginning with Ranbir (Kapoor) – you can’t get filmier than that! I’m in touch with a lot of actors like Asin and Bipasha Basu. We don’t hang out – we speak or sms each other once in a while. I’m pretty okay with everyone…Priyanka (Chopra) even. We used to meet earlier, now we don’t, but we’re still in touch.”
Quirks “I am obsessed with cleanliness. If I have to live with someone, I’d clean their mess too!”
Passions Work, food, playing sports, yoga.
Pet Peeves “None.” Not possible. Thinks. “None.”